The road to reclaim the title of national champions leads through Manchester, New Hampshire, as the Yale men’s ice hockey team takes on No. 3 Boston University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament this Friday.
After a heartbreaking loss to Harvard in the second round of the ECAC Tournament, the Bulldogs (18–9–5, 12–6–4 ECAC) managed to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament with a No. 13 PairWise ranking and an impressive record in the final few weeks of the season. Before the losses to Harvard, the Elis went undefeated in their final six games of the season and the team has also maintained a stellar 5–1 record against non-conference opponents this year.
Forward John Baiocco ’18 noted that nearly being shut out of tournament play has only inspired the Bulldogs to skate harder against the Terriers.
“It was kind of an emotional roller coaster getting into the tournament this year,” Baiocco said. “After our loss to Harvard we knew it would be tough to make the tournament … [We] thought our season was over even though we believed we deserved to be in it. I think that is only going to make us a harder team to play against going into the tournament.”
Taking the ice on Friday will be the most dominant forces in college hockey at both ends of the rink. Boston University (25–7–5, 14–5–3 Hockey East) currently has the No. 1 offense in the NCAA, averaging 3.89 goals per game compared to Yale’s 2.62. Meanwhile, Yale has let up an average of just 1.59 goals per game this season, while Boston averages 2.27. Leading Boston’s offensive production is powerhouse forward Jack Eichel, who leads Division I with 66 points this year, nine points ahead of second-place Jimmy Vesey of Harvard. Goaltending leader Alex Lyon ’17, who holds the record for shutouts this season with seven and a save percentage of 0.939, will be in net to fight off Eichel’s attempts. Lyon was also recently awarded the Ken Dryden Award, an honor given to the best goaltender in the ECAC as voted on by the conference’s coaches.
Forward Trent Ruffalo ’15 said the Bulldogs will have to shut down Eichel if they want to move on to Saturday’s matchup.
“The biggest challenge for us will probably be to shut him down offensively,” Ruffalo said. “He’s a great player who can make plays, so were going to play our team game and try to take away his time and space when he has the puck.”
The matchup between the two teams will be the first in over eight years. The last face-off came in 2006 when the Bulldogs, who were ranked No. 18 at the time, narrowly fell to the Terriers in overtime in the ninth game of head coach Keith Allain’s ’80 career.
The Bulldogs are coming into this matchup after nearly two weeks off following the ECAC Tournament. After getting a bye in the first round, the Elis faced the Crimson in three games at Ingalls Rink, where it came down to the second overtime in the third game before Harvard managed to pull out a victory. Harvard, who plays Omaha in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, took home the ECAC cup after defeating Yale. This will be the fifth time Yale has had a run at the national championship in the NCAA tournament in the past seven years.
Boston University claimed its eighth Hockey East title this past weekend defeating UMass-Lowell at TD Garden in Boston. Before the tournament, the Terriers were on a five-game win streak, and this appearance marks BU’s first since 2012 and their 33rd overall.
Defender Rob O’Gara ’16 noted that the team will stick to the same game plan it has maintained throughout the season.
“The main focus against BU is playing the game that has allowed us to amass 18 wins this year,” O’Gara said. “Being sound defensively, forechecking hard, playing well on special teams and winning the transition game are what will allow us to go far in this tournament, and that is exactly what we have been focusing on this week in preparation for tomorrow.”
The puck drops at the Verizon Wireless Arena in New Hampshire at 2 p.m. today. The game will be aired on AM station 1340.